Five Best Friday Columns

The Atlantic Wire
Five Best Friday Columns
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Five Best Friday Columns

Brittney Cooper at Salon on Rachel Jeantel Brittney Cooper considers the media coverage of 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel's marathon testimony in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, who is accused of murdering her friend, Trayvon Martin. "After her first day of testimony, I tuned in yesterday in a show of sofa-based, sister-girl, solidarity," Cooper explains. "Immediately, I heard newscasters referring to her prior testimony, which I had watched on video, as combative and aggressive." She continues: "These kinds of terms ... stalk Black women, especially Black women who are dark-skinned and plus-sized like Rachel, at every turn seeking to discredit the validity of our experiences and render invisible our traumas." John McWhorter at Time offered some context: "Much of [Jeantel's] irritable reticence is predictable of someone of modest education reacting to an unfamiliar type of interrogation on the witness stand. ... In oral cultures— i.e. most cultures—direct questions are processed as abrupt and confrontational. In that, Jeantel is operating at a clear disadvantage."

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Tricia Rose at CNN on the fall of Paula Deen Does food empress Paula Deen deserve our forgiveness? Not yet, says Tricia Rose: "This could be a teachable moment to discuss how complex racism is, how good intentions cannot do the work of anti-racism education, and how even people who like black people can behave in ways that do racial harm," Rose writes, addressing the TV chef. "Yes, Paula Deen, good people can hold racist ideas even though they might not be aware of them. Instead, it has turned in to a maudlin, self-absorbed reality-TV style drama." Which is a symptom of a larger societal ill: "Our public understanding about how racism works today is thwarted by the personalized response that focuses on intention, rather than action." Daniel Gross at The Daily Beast predicts Deen's future: "A history of racial insensitivity—especially a recent history of racial insensitivity—can stop you from being a national public figure. So Deen is commercially viable, just not on the national stage. To survive, she’ll have to revert to being a niche figure."

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Michael Calderone at The Huffington Post on the NSA's sudden availability How does the NSA respond to allegations of malfeasance and even illegality? By plying a scoop-hungry press corps, observes Michael Calderone, who tracks the agency's sudden (but still anonymous) availability to reporters. "It's no surprise the Obama administration, like all administrations, would leak claims that are advantageous. And reporters covering national security and intelligence routinely need to provide anonymity in order to gain a window into the government," Calderone writes. "But reporters also need to scrutinize claims that officials are only willing to make anonymously about national security, especially at a moment when they clearly bolster the government’s case against the 30-year-old fugitive being tried in the court of public opinion." Jack Shafer at Reuters assents: "I want intelligence beat reporters to come clean with their readers when government officials aggressively peddle a story line to the media but won’t take personal and professional responsibility for the peddling ... Sometimes the story isn’t the story — the metastory is. When it is, reporters have no excuse not to say so."

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Roger Cohen in The New York Times on Edward Snowden's place in history How will history judge NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden? Without the revelations supplied by Snowden, Roger Cohen argues, "a long-overdue debate about what the U.S. government does and does not do in the name of post-9/11 security — the standards applied in the F.I.S.A. court, the safeguards and oversight surrounding it and the Prism program, the protection of civil liberties against the devouring appetites of intelligence agencies armed with new data-crunching technology — would not have occurred." Cohen adds: "His movements have sent the wrong message. Still, he has performed a critical service. History, the real sort, will judge him kindly." Hendrik Hertzberg at The New Yorker agrees: "Snowden acted on the basis of a belief that he was serving the true interests and highest values of his country. He may be mistaken in that belief. He may be a narcissist. ... He is manifestly a lawbreaker. Fair enough. But a traitor? No. It's not even fair to say, as some Administration officials have done, that he intended to damage national security."

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Amy Davidson at The New Yorker on how to defend marriage To grasp how the Supreme Court came to its Defense of Marriage Act decision, Amy Davidson weighs the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose majority opinion "goes beyond practical concerns about the denial of health insurance or other benefits. ... What Kennedy is invoking are the societal possibilities of marriage, part of the reason that the government has an interest in it at all." She continues: "Both sides are talking about honor and dignity. For Scalia and Roberts, though, that means little more than that questioning the good will of the respectable, or perhaps of the privileged, is a grave insult. For Kennedy, and the four liberals who joined him, it means that the Court saw the honor of a widow who came before it—and, perhaps incidentally, her love." Where Davidson sees honor, however, others see overreach. Mona Charon at National Review writes: "The five members of the majority wish to associate themselves with fashionable opinion and will no doubt be guided by that vanity (rather than by law) when the next opportunity arises to reverse democratically enacted policies they dislike."

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